Pliés and thank you | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (February 17, 2023, 2:37 PM EST) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
This batch didn’t hit the fan. It hit the face of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper entertainment critic Wiebke Hüster. Apparently, she wrote a review of choreographer Marco Goebke’s ballet production in Hanover, Germany, saying his latest work would “kill the audience due to boredom.” This praise did not sit well with Goebke who charged at Hüster during a break at a performance in the theatre and tossed a bagful of dog feces into her face.

Hüster noted that she saw Goebke earlier on stage with his pet dachshund. This certainly adds a new dimension to the concept of a service dog.

The victim complained to the police. I wonder where this matter is going from here.

Will the police lay an assault charge? Maybe even escalate to assault with a weapon? Who knows? But I doubt this one would stick.

For starters the opera house has suspended Goebke. They did of course issue an immediate apology to the victim noting that this attack contradicted the house’s values of “respectful interaction and dialogue.” They did not elaborate or specify what these values were. I Googled, “Hanover Opera House- values” and did not see anything even remotely resembling, “If you come here for a ballet, leave your dachshund at home.”

Will they dismiss him? If so, it could make for an interesting wrongful termination case. I can’t think of too many arguments he may have other than maybe blaming his dog. I think of the common law doctrine of scienter, whereby a dog is presumed to be a domestic animal and ergo unless the pooch has demonstrated hostile behaviour to the owner’s knowledge, said owner is not liable. In other words, the dog gets one free bite. Or in this case one free toss. Does this immunity from liability extend to the owner? I will admit it is a bit of a stretch. But we lawyers are good at this.

If his employer does dismiss him, he may have some difficulty in fulfilling his obligation to mitigate his damages. Presumably any interview for another position Goebke undergoes might raise eyebrows when the interviewer looks at the resumé and gets to the reason for leaving his previous position. I suppose Goebke will have to be creative and say something like, “Given the nature of that critic’s review of my ballet, I was returning her compliment in kind.”

As well the critic may start a civil action against the gentleman. I doubt he would get too much sympathy from a judge. After all, when seeking equity, you must come to court with clean hands.

When I reflect upon my four decades plus in practice, I will say that I am proud of how our profession mandates civility.  And of how we lawyers manage to exercise restraint even when the going gets tough. I have never seen or heard of any disgruntled colleague lunge at his or her opponent. Even if we don’t like the outcome, we usually congratulate opposing counsel, generally shaking hands (presumed clean pre-COVID).

And if we don’t like the decision, we have the option to appeal. Maybe this vehicle might be a useful procedure in the media world. If it were available, perhaps Goebke could have appealed to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, filing a notice of appeal noting:

“1  The learned critic erred in calling my ballet a morsel of ... (whatever)

Makes sense?

And then let us not forget the Rules of Professional Conduct, and the disciplinary sanctions the law society can enforce. If Goebke were a lawyer, this type of reaction would certainly raise eyebrows as possibly constituting “conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.” In my humble view the door would be left quite open for a disciplinary committee to find that this behaviour might indeed just cross the line and “bring the legal profession into disrepute.”

Who knows? All I can say to our colleagues is I do not suggest that you attempt this one in your courtroom.   

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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